A Short Story and a Juicy Red Pen

It’s Friday, and I’m giddy.

It isn’t the sunshine, though I hope a few UV rays will cut the glare from my legs the next time I step out in public wearing shorts.

It isn’t the upcoming weekend, even with the anticipation of family, fellowship, and an unorthodox amount of candy.

Really, the fact that it’s Friday has little to do with the butterflies in my stomach or the bounce in my step.

Right now, I hold a short story in my little hands, an old piece of fiction that went out into the submission world and come back. I like the story, well enough that I want to send it out again. But, the place where I want to send it requires that I cut the story’s word count in half.

In half.

Oooo, I love a challenge.

I love the anticipation, the adrenaline, the prospect of conquest. I figure, I have nothing to lose in attacking this story with a juicy red pen. And, at this point, I have everything to learn.

So, with that in mind, I ask:

What are your tried and true techniques to cutting a story? I mean, really cutting a story?

Do you start by circling the scenes that work the best? Or do you start by slashing away at anything that hints of disconnect?

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10 responses to “A Short Story and a Juicy Red Pen

  1. I read in Dwight V. Swain’s book, ‘Techniques of the Selling Writer’, that when editing cut the information or facts and leave the feelings. Never cut emotion.

    That facts exist outside of people, independent, and their meaning is significant only when we have feelings about them or react to them.

    • On the facts, “…[t]heir meaning is significant only when we have feelings about them or react to them.” I love that. That gives me a great place to start!

      Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving your comment, mikidemillion.

      BTW, I peeked at your blog; I can’t wait until I have a little more time to read more.

  2. @ mikidemillion – good advice about never cutting emotion.

    I think I take a intuitive approach to cutting. I just know in my heart what doesn’t add & I’m not generally emotionally attached so I don’t have a hard time letting go of it.

    Noah Lukeman had good advice to pretend you get $100 for every word you cut & remembering that helps me get to that intuitive place.

    Good luck! Let us know how it goes.

  3. Oooh – in half. Cutting in half can be easier than trimming – sometimes!

    Like the advice to not lose the emotions.

    Here is a place to start that is from an approach to re-vision that I use at the Write Around Portland workshops I do: Read through the piece. Then go back through it and circle/underline/highlight (whatever makes sense to you) the parts that stand out in some way. Look for the words or phrases that carry the emotion; that are strong; that paint a picture; that you like the sound of; that stand out for some reason even if you don’t know what that reason is.

    Write those on a separate piece of paper and look at them. What is the feeling or story they convey? Now look at the rest of the piece. Are there parts that don’t fit this or don’t move the story forward? Or parts that are not necessary to make it all work?

    Just a thought.

    And for me, personally – I go through my pieces looking for two things. -1- the parts that I absolutely LOVE and can’t do without = those are often suspicious for things to cut or trim, and my attachment to them may make me ignore them as places that need to go. -2- pieces of information that really aren’t necessary; that are either additional details to the main story or something I’ve already written better elsewhere in the piece.

    Good luck!

    …oh, and read-alouds are also often helpful in finding what can be cut…

    • Dot,

      I love your suggested exercise as well. I think I can make all these tips work together. It will be interesting to see what I decide to cut. I remember the last time I looked at it (for revision), I couldn’t imagine letting anything go.

      Your last tip may help me in that area: looking for repetition of details and pieces that really aren’t necessary.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  4. Although this wouldn’t cut it in half but taking off the back end can sometimes work. Some stories I read end so oddly, or randomly, and I think it must be the literary genius at work. That or they had a word count restriction that left the story ending with an arty, abstract feel to it.

  5. Christi,
    Cutting can be an emotional ride in itself! Usually, the beginning can be cut completely and the conflict introduced in the first two sentences.
    I agree with the others to keep the emotion, but also those strong verbs and the one or two words that say a lot.
    Research Flash Fiction for more tips on writing “tight!”
    Good luck!

    • Mary Jo,

      Funny, Tricia mentioned cutting the end, and you mentioned cutting the beginning. It makes sense. Sometimes when I write, it takes time to get revved up and into the story, then I find it difficult to settle into the right ending.

      Thanks for the tips everyone! This is all so helpful 🙂

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